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© Gail Underwood Parker

Monday, August 30, 2010

A strange family school tradition

Tomorrow I will continue a familiar tradition that many consider strange... especially for a teacher. Tomorrow [the day before school starts] I will present each of my kiddos with a "Get out of School Free" pass. It isn't exactly permission to play ho0key since that is defined as absence from school "without permission." This is absence from school without the school's permission but with my permission.

I couldn't give this to my own children until they were old enough to stay home alone safely because I was working full time as a teacher. I could give it to my current kiddos at an earlier age since I am no longer teaching. They each get to pick one day a year when they choose to stay home without penalty from me. It cannot be on a day they have a test, nor the first day of school. They can only use this pass one time per year.

I find this token is rarely used. I remind them of it whenever they try to play sick and clearly are not. It seems to eliminate some of the usual hassles/whines about "I don't want to go to school today." I simply ask if they are using their Skip Pass that day and remind them that they only have one. Usually the child decides s/he might need it more later and goes ahead to school. If they choose to use it, fine. I call the school to let them know that s/he will not be in school that day. They may spend the day as they choose as long as it is acceptable behavior that doesn't break family rules and doesn't interfere with my duties for the day.

My kids like the idea, teachers live with it [once I explain it is only one day], and I find it helps them be honest, to make conscious choices and promotes good decision making. Besides... it is one of the rare things I do that they think is cool. :-)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A thought about Katrina

I was listening to one of the many news reports on the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the failure of the levees in New Orleans. I was struck by a statistic given by Sen Mary Landrieu. She said that all of the non-profit agencies, celebrities, and so forth that have worked so hard to rebuild homes for those whose homes were destroyed by the flood waters have managed to build 5000 house. If you do the math that is amazing. That is five years so an average of 1000 homes completed per year. 1000 homes in 52 weeks means just short of 20 homes completed per week. 20 homes per week means nearly 3 homes completed every day! Truly a remarkable rate.

Sadly, although the 5,000 newly completed homes in that five years is a wonderfully speedy pace, it is but a tiny fraction [ .025 ] of the 200,000 homes destroyed! I couldn't bear to continue the math.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

School Anxieties

As the start of school gets closer, some kids get more and more anxious. A little anxiety can be calmed with a bit of reassurance, reminders, and chats. More serious school anxiety may require more specific reactions. Here are some I have tried and found successful:
• Visit the school and walk around/through the building. Locate [or remind them] where commonly used rooms are: the gym, the library, the particular grade level classrooms, the main office, nurses's office, cafeteria, and don't forget the bathrooms! Talk in supportive terms about each room..[This is the main office...the people here will help you if you have to call home, or if you can't find a classroom, or if you need to bring in a note from home, etc. This is the library where people will help you find wonderful books that you can read. etc. ] If it is a school the child has attended before maybe you can use the excuse of them giving you the tour to reind you where things are. Once back home you an talk about things you saw when school comes up, helping them feel familiar with where they will be. [PS: While you are there.... check out the lockers if your child will have one.... some are built when backpacks were much smaller!]
• If your child is old enough and comfortable enough to verbalize their worries: Write each worry on a post-it note and put it on their bedroom "Worry Wall." Then at least once a day before the start of school talk about one of the worries, plan a solution or discover the answer and write it on the post it. Move the post-it to the "Solution Spot" in their room. If there is no answer and no solution, talk about ideas for resolving it and write those down. [Ex: What if we have to change clothes for gym? Plans might be: -- Ask a friend or neighbor who has finished that grade in that school. Ask the school office person. or Write the question on the first page of their new notebook to be sure to ask someone on the first day of school. etc.]
A new year of school has been causing anxieties and worries probably as long as school has been in existence. Talk about your worries when you were young but also talk about how you worked through them, how they worked out. Talk. Listen. Sympathize. Reassure.
As always... I welcome any ideas or solutions from you in cyber-space.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The curse of September jet lag

School starts for my kiddos in a little over one week and I am already well into my subtle [ok, not always so subtle] efforts to prevent September jet-lag. You know what I mean.... the condition marked by intense irritability, alternating whines and yawns, combined with an almost constant need for coercion. A typical day you say? Well, if so , it may only get worse if your summertime adolescents milk summer of its last drop before the first day of school. Do you remember how badly the single hour change into and out of Daylight Savings Time through off everyone's schedule AND mood? Imagine for a moment that Daylight Savings Time was a shift of three hours rather than one. Chaos would ensue. It is like suddenly waking up in a time zone that is three hours earlier than your body's accustomed schedule!
For most children of school age summertime includes extra playtime, extra time in the outdoors [weather permitting], less or no homework, and.... the absence of the dreaded morning deadline. For some the deadline is in the form of a large yellow bus pulling up that you know will wait only fractionally before closing its doors and going to the next stop. For others it is knowing that everyone must be in the car by x:xx or the parent who is doing the drop off will be late for work. For some it means that they must be on their way by x:xx if they are going to be able to walk to school and get to class before the late bell. [Or that they don't leave before x:xx they will be late even if they run the whole way!]
Even under the best of circumstances a morning deadline tempts disasters of all sizes [and often tantrums of equal proportions]. But imagine the child who during the summer regularly sleeps at least an hour or two later than during the school year. [Make that 3-4 hours later if you have a teen, especially one without a summer job!] Suddenly, the first day of school arrives and they are up [or dragged out of bed], get going with a burst of adrenelin, make it through the school day and comes home ..... to crash. September jet lag strikes again!
I am already inching forward our television off time, shower times, and head-to-your-rooms times. Likewise I am creeping earlier the time I wake them up and need them to help times. There is always back to school shopping to be done this time of year, whether supplies or clothes or both. When all else fails to rouse them I simply explain [the night before and again in the morning] that the shopping run will be the next day at x:xx a.m. Sometimes one of the older ones will pass on the shopping to sleep. Once they see the goodies the others picked up, the sleeper rarely skips the next day's run. Yes, it is annoying to do repeated smaller trips of school shopping. But it is worth it if it gets them up more willingly and inches them closer to school rising times. Little by little they get closer to the routine they will need when school starts. My emergency measure is a standing offer for the last few days before school. If they all get up, dressed, beds made etc. two mornings in a row on the school schedule I will take them out to breakfast.... [but my car will only go at the time that is the school deadline of course!]
So, that's my strategy. It doesn't always work, but it usually does. Even when it doesn't completely work, the impact of September jet lag is lessened. Anything that makes the transition into the school year easier is worth it to me. How about you? Any ideas you want to share???

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A boost for girls

Actually this is great for anyone, but it is particularly helpful for adolescent girls and older. The barrage of damage to young girls' body image is well-known and documented. Here is an approach that I happened upon earlier this summer. I love it! Check out the website. Their tagline is: "transforming the way you see yourself one post-it note at a time."
Do it yourself. Get your friends to participate. Get your kids to be sneaky post-it posters. Have your kids help you think up things to say on them. Have older kiddos help write them. Think of fun places to hide them...guerilla style. At the same time that you are boosting their self images you can also teach them the joy of doing something nice for someone in secret, without wanting or needing personal pats on the back for doing it. Let me know how your kids react.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Three Stages of Independence... or: Will I ever sleep in again?

This morning I was up bright and early. Yesterday I was up early [though not very bright]. Tomorrow I expect I will be up early again. I can barely remember what it is like to sleep in with the calm, confident abandon demonstrated daily by my adolescent and teen kiddos. Having raised at least nine children I have come to some conclusions not usually covered in child development books. They often write about the stages of independence a child moves through but they always seem to overlook the milestones of morning wakening. Here is my take:
#1- NO independence--
Children who are too young to be safe and independent in the house will always wake up early in the morning, preventing you from a slow rousing, much less of joy of sleping in. This will continue until the age the child could be safely allowed to get up and about by themselves. If when you awake you discover a happy child playing amid unintended household disruption.... they are still not safe enough for you to oversleep or sleep in.
#2- WISHFUL independence--
As soon as your child is safe up alone they will begin randomly switching from early risers to late risers. This is part of their instinctively devious biological plot to keep you on your toes, never relaxed enough to really let go and plan a morning to sleep in. At this stage you will be tempted to sleep in but beware... the moment you do, you will awake to find they have discovered the joy of making living room sandboxes using ricekrispies for sand or some other temporary disaster.
#3- SAFE indepence--
The third stage is when the children are old enough to be actually useful in the morning [to get some work done, to help the younger ones get up and dressed, to even just get themselves up and ready]. You will sigh, and think "Well, if I can't sleep in, at least they can be useful." Not so fast. At this point they will always sleep in. Not only will they sleep in, but getting them up will require almost as much effort as watching a toddler who is already up.

Anyone find a different pattern? Any solutions? Some of my friends suggested that one of the empty-nest joys is that you finally get to sleep in when you choose, without fear or guilt. We'll see. I'm still waiting.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Family Rules

In my home I have always had only two rules: "Safe" and "Loved." Everyone [and everything] in the house is to feel and be safe. Safe from fear, abuse, neglect, demeaning, mocking, etc. etc. Everyone [and everything in a sense] is to feel and be loved. I figure those two rules are the non-negotiables. They cover the key essentials that I believe every child should have. [See the April 29, 2009 blog entry "My only rule" for more about it.]

Another parent recently sent me to the Duggar family's web site. [Yes, the family with 19 children and a television series.] The Duggar family's rules [as listed on their website] are:

1. Always use soft words, even when you don't feel well

2. Always display kind actions and joyful attitudes, even if you have been mistreated

3. Always use manners and be respectful of others and their belongings

4. Use one toy at a time. Share!

Trying to distill key beliefs of any kind into simple rules is always a challenge. It helps if they are clear and concise. I have worked on many committees charged with the task of forming rules [or "guiding principles" as organizations tend to call them]. Clear is usually a lot easier than concise. Clarity isn't much help if the list of rules is longer than the Constitutional Amendments. Have you made a list of guiding principles or rules for your home? I suppose everyone's reflects their own values and their own styles. I would love to have readers or blog visitors share their family's versions. Anyone game?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Why is foster parenting so tough?

A new foster parent asked me this recently and I stumbled with my answer because there is no simple answer. But, the question deserves an honest attempt at an answer. First of all, foster parenting may or may not be tougher than bio-parenting depending on the kids involved. But I believe it is always more complicated than bio-parenting.
Part of it is because the stakes always seem so much higher with kids in care than with bio kids. With my own bio kids I had the typical challenges of peer pressure, adolescent mouthiness, risky friend choices, fighting the temptations of smoking, drinking, etc., and the typical rainbow of issues. When I felt overwhelmed, particularly as a single parent, I could always seem to find other parents around me who shared the same struggles. We could commiserate and encourage each other.
Foster kiddos have all those traditional rainbow colored issues. But they all too often have an additional rainbow filled with issues colored so deeply that foster parents frequently feel isolated and alone, with no circle of friends to go "Oh, hey, I remember when my kiddo did that... you'll make, it passes." In a conversation among foster parents [especially treatment or therapeutic level children] the talk is less likely about backtalk and misbehavior. Common topics may include firesetting, self-abuse, lack of bowel control, seemingly uncontrollable mood swings or rages, and more. Certainly not topics likely to be shared at your run of the mill parent's association group! The issues bred by abuse, neglect, trauma and loss complicate every parenting strategy and method.
Even so, I don't think the extra issues are what make foster parenting so tough. I think it is the way the issues and the social culture can lead foster parents to feel isolated. The lack of support, encouragement, commiseration and understanding from a peer group or circle makes the process far more difficult. Your friends and family may question your sanity or may support you. Either way your relationship with friends will be forever altered. Even family members will have to shift and adjust and react differently than they would have if you never welcomed new children into your family circle. Some will do it well, some will not, and it will shift periodically. Some shifts will bring wonderful blessings. Some will bring pain and sorrow.
Foster parenting can be a wonderful blessing for the children to whom you offer love and a home. Fostering also can bring blessings and growth to you and those around you. But not always. Sometimes you will feel totally alone. Sometimes you will feel heroic, sometimes you will convinced you are a failure. Bottom line? Foster parenting is like any life... a mixed bag, not really in your sole control. It is a choice and the only thing you can be sure is that your life and the lives of those who know you will never be the same.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Gather or Scatter

Today is the long drive back to the camp to pick up the youngest kiddo after 12 days away. I expect the drive and re-entry process will make for a long day, and it is way too early for me to write coherently. So, rather than attempt an entry I will simply offer you a thought before I jump in the car. The thought has been flitting around my head since seeing or reading it somewhere [and no I don't remember where]. It doesn't have anything to do with camp or today, but is still food for thought:

"It's not what you gather, but what you scatter that tells what kind of life you have lived."

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Dishonest Children

This month I have been working especially hard on a book with a cowriter named Pat Miller. We have known each other for years in the parenting training and foster parenting circles. We have been working on this book for almost three years now. [Why so long? Did I mention she lives in Texas and I live in Maine?] I think we are just about ready to start shopping it around to publishers. The book is tentatively titled The Dishonest Child: A Practical Plan to Reduce Lying and Stealing. Lots of books address problem behaviors and usually include a section on lying and/or stealing. They seldom go beyond motives and often simplistic advice to reduce the behavior. We start with the motives and move through specific, detailed steps for helping children who are chronically dishonest.
Parents almost universally list honesty as one of the keys traits they hope to instill in their children yet research shows that lying and stealing are common to a huge percentage of children. We have filled our book with examples from real life families: foster, bio, adoptive, and step. We have long since given up on using current examples of celebrities caught in lying or stealing because the list seems to change every news cycle.
I think I will start to include [every once in a while] snippets from the book in this blog. It seems silly to cover other problems and ignore the one I am writing a book about. But... I would also like to extend a cyber-invitation to my blog readers. If any of you are struggling with this in your homes or just interested in this issue and would be willing to be a reader for our manuscript, please let me know. You would have the fun of reading a work in progress and perhaps giving feedback that would make it better or a comment/response that could be used in promoting the book to potential publishers. In any case, the invitation is there if anyone is interested, let me know...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

10,000 Steps

For a bit over two months I have been trying to increase my walking ability and stamina. With a bad leg I was told not to walk more than a mile a day. Meanwhile my brother delights in taking 8-9 nile day walks almost daily. [His last visit he walked all day... literally a marathon, covering almost 30 miles in one day of walking pleasure and discipline.] For years I have paid for pushing my limits with swelling etc. but this summer I have finally seen progress. After two years of occasionally walking home from church [about 2 miles] on nice spring, summer or fall Sundays, I have finally managed 2 weeks in a row to walk both to and home from church. Yes, there was the hour and a half gap between the two hikes, but still it made a total of 4 glorious miles in a day/morning! Best yet, no swelling or warning pain. My goal has been to work toward that magic number so often held up as a daily goal.... 10,000 steps per day. This week I have hit that goal THREE times!! Three times I have put one foot in front of the other ten thousand times in a single day.
Yesterday as I walked I thought about each step. If I can put one foot in front of the other ten thousand times in a single day working toward the goal of fitness [and maybe weight loss!] what else could I do over and over each day for a goal. How many times can I overlook a teenagers attitude, an adolescent's tone of voice? How many times can I let go of frustration or hurt? How many times can I speak in a quiet tone when tempted to snarl, snipe, or scold?
I once could barely walk 1000 steps in a single day. Now 5000 in a day is easy, 10,000 a regularly achievable goal. My overall health, energy and optimism have improved with my stamina for walking. What improvements would I see if I switched my "fitness" goals from walking to those parenting choices? Surely I can do it 1% as often? That would mean I might start making those new choices 10 times a day. Then maybe in some time making those new choices 50 times a day would be easy. Would 100 even be needed?
Perhaps if I made choices during my "parenting walk" with the same discipline that I put one foot in front of each other on my fitness walks... not only would my life be transformed, but my whole family's as well. Hmmmmmmm. Anyone for a walk??

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Introductions and Shaming

I made my foster children feel shamed this weekend. I certainly didn't mean to, but that doesn't change the hurt, nor the fact that I have to make it up to them. One of my kiddos is still away at camp, leaving two boys at home. On Saturday I was invited to a get together to meet my youngest [and newly engaged] daughter's fiance's parents. [Someone really needs to come up with a word for the relationship between two sets of in-laws.] I have never met them and they graciously had invited my daughter and all her sisters to come to their house and get to know each other. They also invited some of my daughter's grown friends. [My daughter is almost 30] It was a lovely idea. At first I thought it was just grownups so RSVPd that it would be just me, not the kiddos. When I realized that my married daughters and spouses were bringing their children I still chose not to bring my kiddos.
Before you jump on me... the other six grandkids are between 1 and 7. They all live near each other and hang out together a lot. The two kiddos I had planned to leave at home were 15 and 18. I knew that they wouldn't like the 2 hr ride each way. I knew their sister at camp would be upset if they went and she didn't. I knew they would be sort of odd-guys out with no easy way to fit into the little kids group or the adult group. And, to be honest, I was kind of looking forward to the me-time of a car ride alone and a day away from the house. Those are the factors that I considered.
When I got home and was showing the pictures of the get-together I suddenly realized that the boys felt left out.... and it came out that it wasn't just feeling left out, it was feeling left behind. Being kids more emotionally fragile than many, they jumped to the assumption that I had been ashamed to bring them to the outing. That had not been my intention, but like many struggles between perception and reality, the hurt and damage was real regardless of my intentions. And was I diligent enough? Did I wrongly think they might not be as welcome? Was I unconsciously reacting based on previous embarassment when the kiddos had misbehaved? Was I worried about first impressions? Was I trying to avoid questions and explanations? How would the other family members reacted? Was it really more my fault than I cared to admit? Was I being selfish?
If you are reading looking for some amazingly wise solution or conversation that instantly "fixed" everything, you are out of luck. I don't have a solution. I haven't miraculously healed the hurt with my explanation or apologies. I just share because this is a just another example of life as a foster parent and the emotions and pitfalls that sometimes trip us up. We are far from perfect. Today I feel it.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Beach to Beacon and trivia

Last weekend in my town there was a world class road race. It was a 10K that starts right near my house, so our road was closed as some 6000 runners prepared, warmed up, then made their start through the balloon festooned arch with crowds cheering and a loudspeaker encouraging them. Today a friend of mine who ran the race was talking about it. She had a starting number that put her far in the back of the pack to start. [Sneaker chips assure accurate race time because the sensors don't signal the timer to start until they actually cross the start line.] When I expressed sympathy she said she actually liked it. Why? Usually she starts closer to the front and is constantly passed by faster runners. This years she was far enough back that she could experience the thrill of passing others.

Food for thought. Comments?

Oh by the way.... today is 8-9-10 a rare pattern indeed. Just interesting to note.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Want vs Need

     My boys have been earning a little money this summer working for a friend and doing a few odd jobs.  Like many teenagers, they are thrilled to have money in the bank and even more thrilled to have money in their pockets!  Sadly, like most teenagers, that thrill too often results in the disappearance of said money in their pockets or in their banks. "Where did the money go?" I ask.  The answer almost invariably proves they have no clue the difference between want and need
      Ah, yet another concept to be modeled and taught by parents.  And, another concept that society's habit seems to be in opposition to what I am trying to teach. When you have money in your pocket and you are thirsty it is tempting to think you need to buy a gatorade or energy drink or soda. The idea of waiting 5 minutes until you are home and can get a glass of water [or even pour a glass from the gatorade in the frig] seems ridiculous.  When the Old Spice man on tv seems to promise all kinds of rewards for using Old Spice it is tough to teach the difference between needing deodorant and wanting Old Spice. And then there is technology.  I now recognize that today's teens may need a cell phone.  However the difference between a cell phone they need and the models they want is huge.
     Philosophically I admit to being occasionally challenged by wants.  I needed a kitchen, but I took a deep breath and splurged big time for the kind of kitchen I have always wanted. And the bottom line is that the makeshift kitchen I had used for 20 years probably would have lasted another 20 [or until I sold the house to someone who would immediately replace it]. So maybe even that I did not truly need. I want a swimming pool desperately [especially in this summer's heat!]. But, even if I would use one, I certainly don't need one. I probably will never have one. That is not too hard for me.  What is more difficult is when I look at the size of my house, the furniture in it, etc. and realize that although I have little new furniture anywhere in my house, I have far more things than many and more than I truly need. And books... I love my shelf after shelf of books.  They are dear to me. But do I really need them? 
     I sometimes wonder if we could not cure most of the homelessness, the poverty, the need for foster homes, etc. if as a nation we could choose better between what we want and what we need.  We could make do with much less and share much more. Space, things, food, love. My cynical friends tell me our economy would completely collapse if people stopped buying what they want and bought only what they need. Maybe it's true. In the meantime I  will go back to trying to explain to my guys why they do not need that new phone with that new gadget, or that new whatever they want today. 

Friday, August 6, 2010

Scheduling down time?

     Yesterday I begin the race to see what miracles I can accomplish while I am one child down for a little over a week. Being me, I have a list of things I hope to get done. Being me, it is a list long enough to fill several weeks, and impossible to complete in just over one. Trying to be better, it does include some relaxation "jobs" to be done... eat lunch on the deck, read a magazine article, phone a friend for a movie, take the boys to breakfast. I suspect that people who encourage more relaxation time probably would disapprove of it being an item to be checked off on a list of tasks. I suspect it is supposed to flow naturally, rather than scheduled like an obligation. Me? I think that whatever works, works. I am counting on the premise that even a "scheduled" alone time or relaxation time still provides a respite, a rejuvenation. If nothing else, it is an attempt, a start, a recognition that it IS important. Hey, it was important enough to get on my list, right?!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Summer Camp Goodbyes

OK, so we made it to the summer camp and back without major trauma. Yes, the day or two before were filled with anxiety based disagreements and hassles, but we made it. The day before she left she was antagonizing and irritating everyone in the house in an almost nonstop onslaught.  At one point I took her for a walk with me [partly in an attempt to put opposing forces in separate corners before the next round could begin!]. On the walk I told her a "story" about a time her brothers were getting ready for camp and were getting nervous.  I explained that they were realizing how much they would miss all of us but didn't want to admit it to us or to themselves.  So, they started fights with everybody so it would be easier for them to leave and maybe they wouldn't miss us as much.  I asked her if she thought that made sense.  She nodded without looking at me.  I asked if she ever felt like that. Another nod.  I asked if she thought that was why she was fighting so much right then.  Her big eyes finally met mine for a slight moment and she nodded sadly before hugging me tightly.  Now I would like to say that after our walk the rest of the day went much better.  Not so.  But at least I knew. And, she knew I knew. 
          I was surprised to see that [at twelve and a half] she still packed her old precious "Lovey" from years before. [See the entry from Sept 8, 2009 for a description.] I am even more surprised [and impressed] that she could find it immediately in a room that is rarely cleaned up and organized for more than a day or two despite repeated cleanupa. I have long since forgotten what wishes and blessings we tucked inside while making it. Probably she has forgotten too. Clearly it still provides her some comfort and reassurance. Hooray for Loveys!
           By now she has probably felt a moment of panic and perhaps reached out to make a new friend. Sooner or later she will make some. Maybe after her first meal or two there she has decided whether the food there will be good or hopeless. Either way she will be fed. She either slept well, fitfully, or very little. Whichever the case, she will survive. Perhaps she will even thrive.  Not that she is likely to admit it to me.  I hope she will have a great time.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Memories of Car Travel #3...singing

     When I was a child my family traveled by car about 10 hours to our annual vacation spot.  We broke it into two days since my grandparents lived 4 hours along the way.  I have wonderful memories of miles spent singing all the traditional fun songs [from Clementine to Erie Canal] plus some not so traditional [anyone know Abdullah Bulbul Emir? or A Capital Ship?].  My parents even put up with our ever increasingly ear-splitting versions of John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt!  
    Today I will be driving to the summer camp I talked about yesterday.  It will be a little over four hours round trip with thee three kids and somehow I am again reminded why my parents were willing to sing mile after mile.  Anything beats listening to children fight in a closed environment!  I have blogged before about memories of childhood car travel, but this morning am thinking of all those songs we learned.  I don't remember the effort of learning them. Did my father start by singing them over and over to us until we knew them well enough to sing along?  Did he teach us the chorus and then lead with the verses?  Had he sung them to us as babies so that we sort of always knew them?  Somehow we knew them. Whether folk songs, kids songs, or even hymns, we had a long list and could go many a turnpike exit without repeating a tune.  Granted this was before built in DVD players, before iPods, before headphones. Now that I have parented myself, and taken my share of family car trips, I have nothing but admiration for my parents patience, tolerance, and wisdom regarding family travel. Our singing [?] may have begun as a strategy for avoiding fights, but it built bonds that have lasted for decades.  
My kiddos already know many of my childhood songs.  Anyone willing to bet that I will be introducing them to a rousing "John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt" before we hit the 50 mile mark?    We're off!     .....[Wish me luck!]

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Summer Camp... Guilt and Joy

     Tomorrow I will take one of my cherubs to a summer camp where she will be staying for 12 days.  I can barely wait.  It is hard to tell who needs it more.  I feel guilty for looking forward to her being gone. It seems awful and yet I really need the time without her to regroup and recharge. The camp is a new one to us. She has gone to church camp for a week at a time in past summers and although she fights going every time... when she is there she loves it.  This camp is MUCH less expensive and is primarily for foster children.  Because of the typical challenges of kids in care the camp has designed a program with extra emphasis on building self-esteem, healthy risk taking, and even has a reading specialist on staff to help the kids improve their reading skills.  On top of that it is all girls so that will be new for her too.  I am hoping that she will really grow from the experience.  I am hoping that she loves it.  They have a continuing program for older girls that could even develop into a summer job as a counselor for her.  She desperately needs something like that.  
     The camp is a two hour drive from here but after the last few weeks I will cheerfully drive it. I feel like the parent who is counting down the days until the new school year starts. Parents of adolescents have long since traded the tears of kindergarten parents separated from their "babies" for the high kicks of parents temporarily freed from adolescent whining and confrontations.  Like them, I look forward to doing a happy dance once the drop off  is done. Yes, I will still have the other two kiddos, so there will still be challenges. But I have learned that when you have a group of kids, removing even one... any one, changes and improves the dynamics for about a week.  Of course the remaining kids use that to "prove" that the absent child is completely to blame for all discord in the family. Then I have to quietly point out that when any one of the other children is gone, the same thing happens.  Plus it is always nice for the kids to discover to they actually miss home,  to discover they actually miss each other. And, it is even nice for me to discover that I miss them.  
     So tomorrow we will get in the car, drive up country and drop off one of my cherubs for fourteen days before returning to pick her up.  While we are apart I can dream that she will come back reformed and mellowed.  She can dream that I will become the perfect parent and her siblings will no longer be annoying.  Her siblings will dream of both.  It is unlikely any of our dreams will come true.  But we will probably all be better and healthier for the break, for the change.  And... we can still dream.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Time to Let Go

       I am tired of letting go.  For the last year [or years] I have had to let go of pieces of me.  For the last two months I have been frantically cleaning and sorting the piles [ok, some of the piles] in my house and getting rid of stuff. [Not for the first time, more like revisiting a frequent resolution.] Box after box went to Goodwill, bag upon bag of trash to the dump, --donating, recycling, and throwing away the debris of my life.  Don't misunderstand, it feels good ---most of the time.  I feel rewarded by clear spaces in my house, by orderly bookcases that were once double and triple shelved.  Clear desk tops that used to look like they were oozing a constant lava stream of paperwork, notes, half-written notes, and un-mailed cards. I love the way it looks. I am proud of the progress.  But sometimes I almost physically ache with the process of letting go of pieces of the past, of ticket stubs and programs that spark memories, of baby clothes that remind me of a time when my life was so simple, so "normal" ... so different than it is now. 

       I think part of why I hang on to those things is an inner longing that life could be that simple, that clear again.  I sometimes would like to be that younger me again.  Not just to be the 120 pounds I used to be [though that would be wonderful!].  Not just to be younger and more energetic [also a nice thought].  More to be the person that had not yet learned how cruel life can be, how much people can hurt one another, how quickly love can become abandonment or cruelty, how completely life can change in a moment. 

     But I need to let go.  I need to get rid of the debris, the piles, the boxes, the bags.  So, I am resolving to not simply remove things from my house, but to really and truly let go.  To release the pain.  To release the anger.  To move past the hurt.  To celebrate the lessons learned, the skills gained, the flexibility developed. Perhaps I will be rewarded not only with a cleaner, more organized home, but a clearer, calmer, more peaceful existence.  We'll see. 

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Hope for Kinship providers

Well, yesterday's kinship training panel was cool.  I was pleased to see a wide mix of ages and situations represented by those in training.  I was blown away by the amount of information they were given. They each got a thick three ring binder filled with resources and support information.. all geared to kinship care.  [I want one!] They were also given two books about raising relative children.  One was the book by Janice Levy that I had a chance to preview and give feedback on when it was in its early stages. It is a book for children.  The other was a thicker book geared for the caregivers.  It was really exciting to see new caregivers supported in an atmosphere that respected and dealt with someone of the issues of loss, tension, stress etc. that are unique to kinship care.  I don't mean to diminish the "caught in the middle" syndrome all foster parents can experience dealing with bio-parents, but in kinship cases there is a lot more emotional baggage that comes with being in the middle. That's just one small example. The guilt, the anger and resentment, the overwhelming sadness... everything seems so magnified, is flavored so differently, when you are in a kinship situation.  
       It was also good to see couples there together.  Back when I first began fostering almost all of the people attending trainings and support groups were female.  Females still are the majority, but more men not only attend, but are clearly involved as parents.  So a shout out to any of you who may be reading this who attended the session yesterday... thanks for sharing and stay in touch! 
[On a side note... four people asked to buy a copy of my book The Caring Heart Speaks. I forgot to tell them to email me sometime later to let me know which parts were most helpful. I don't think readers ever understand how helpful it is to writers to get feedback.  I love to hear from my readers whether about the parenting meditations, or the other history and biography books.] 
So anyway... I woke up this morning with much more hope about kinship providers stepping up to that challenging plate, about the department recognizing some of the differences between kinship care and "regular" foster care, and about agencies offering support and training and resources for kinship providers. I am still broken hearted that so many children each year [month? week? day?] around the country find themselves desperately in need of kinship care. But I have renewed faith that many of those children will find homes with family, will be someplace where they are safe and loved. And, I am happy that agencies are validating the work of kinship care providers and starting to support those efforts!  A good day.